January 31, 2015

Do people want to call you back?

How often do you think about how you sound on the phone?

Not often enough, I'd bet.

I frequently get messages from people with mumbled messages, names I can't understand, phone numbers rattled off too fast, and not enough information. A couple of weeks ago, someone left a message without saying her name at all! Kind of awkward to call back and say, "I'm not sure who I'm calling, because there was no name in your message..."

Another aspect of phone messages and talking on the phone in general that I notice is the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the caller.

Now, I don't expect you to be jumping for joy when we speak on the phone, but I also really don't want to talk to you when your voice is monotone or dreary. Think about how you can put some warmth and friendliness and energy into your voice when you call someone. Make them feel glad they picked up the phone. Make them feel like you're happy to be talking to them.

I have a client who, when I call him, does not sound at ALL happy to be talking to me. Now I know this is not the case, and I know him and his voice. But if he's calling a client, or someone who he would like to become a client, he sure as heck better put some friendliness and energy into his voice.

Here are some tips to leaving a good phone message that will make someone want to call you back:

1. Speak slowly and clearly. It's okay if you speak slower than normal!

2. Mention the date and time you called, in case they don't check their voice mail regularly or are traveling.

3. Say your name clearly, and if your name is unusual or hard to pronounce, please spell it.

4. Say your phone number slowly and clearly. This is the most important part of your message! Without a clear phone number, the person can't call you back!

5. BONUS TIP: Let the person know what you're calling about. I like to know if someone is calling me as a prospective client, for example. I helps me to know how to approach them when I call back. It puts the person on the other end at ease, rather than leaving them hanging, not knowing who you are or what you want.

Just like when giving a presentation (and phone messages are mini-presentations), you want your audience to be engaged and interested, and to feel like you're interested in them. Take the extra effort to put some care into your phone messages and your phone conversations and watch how the person on the other end warms up to you!

January 15, 2015

What does your audience really expect of you? Guest post by Barry Potyondi

It is the most common sin among speechwriters, and almost all of us are guilty of committing it: in our zeal to sound authoritative, coherent and memorable, we forget that speeches begin and end with the listener, not us.

Before any of us put pen to paper, we would do well to take a moment to look at things from the listener’s point of view. Regardless of the speaking opportunity, every audience wants the same three things from a speaker:


How many times have you listened to a speech and come away thinking, “What on earth was he trying to say?”

When listeners are confused by a presentation, their respect for the speaker diminishes. And if they aren’t listening respectfully, they will fail to absorb the lessons of the speech. It is not enough to be an expert with something important to say; you must also say it clearly. Anything less than effective communication defeats the purpose of your presentation.


How often does a member of the audience say that a speech was far too short? Watch any audience during a speech and you’ll see many listeners tune out after about ten minutes. Within 20 minutes, the speaker will have lost most of them completely.

So why do most speeches run on and on? The reasons range from the speaker’s inflated sense of self-importance to his or her lack of self-confidence. The best way to offset either tendency, and therefore hold the attention of your audience, is to be brief. Brevity and impact are closely related. To be brief, you must have command of your subject and express your knowledge succinctly.

In short, you must make your presentation more like a Super Bowl commercial than a State of the Union address.


A speaker’s third and greatest responsibility is to engage listeners. Simply put, you must try to make them think differently or, better still, act decisively.

For example, the eulogist at a funeral service strives to leave you with an indelible, positive impression of the deceased. The corporate executive presenting quarterly financial results aims to increase, or at least maintain, investor confidence in the company. The urban planner presenting a concept design for approval is determined to convince a city council that her redevelopment scheme will benefit the community. In each case, the speaker is attempting to reinforce or alter the beliefs of the listener and jumpstart a corresponding mood or action.

Remember that all good presentations make a single, strong point. Better presentations challenge the thinking of the listener. Great presentations bring about change.

When you put yourself in the audience’s seat before you write, it is far more likely that you will produce a memorable and compelling speech. Your words will excite members of the audience, inspire them, perhaps even change them. When you succeed at that, you’ll be well on your way to making a genuine difference in your community.

In the words of Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, author of The Little Prince, “If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work; but, rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Put your listeners first, and you’ll leave them longing to hear more from you.

About the writer

Award-winning author, speechwriter and communications strategist Barry Potyondi has written speeches for clients ranging from nervous first-time award winners to chief executive officers of global Fortune 500 corporations. SPEAK EASY: A Short Guide to a Great Speech, his sixth non-fiction book, is available at www.howtowriteaspeech.ca.

January 2, 2015

December 12, 2014

DIY speaker gift: Speaker Survival Kit!

Last March, I had a booth at a local women's business festival. I wanted to give something away in a drawing that would be useful to those who stopped by, and specifically useful to speakers.

What I came up with was my "Speaker Survival Kit," and I wanted to pass this idea along to you as a fun gift that you can put together, in a variety of price ranges, for your favorite speaker.

Click here to see what I put in my bag of goodies

This kit cost me about $50 to put together. You can make yours smaller and less elaborate, or go all out!

For example, I could also have included a nice refillable water bottle, some flip chart markers, or a fun noisemaker to get the audience's attention back after an activity.

I grouped small items together in clear cellophane bags, so it wasn't a big mess inside.

Have fun, and if you do make a Speaker Survival Kit for someone, I'd love to hear about it!

December 2, 2014

My 2015 holiday speaker gift list is here!

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

And it's also the time of the year, when I update my annual list of speaker gifts, to help you find the best gifts for the speaker in your life -- who might just be you! There are also oldies but goodies here that are my go-to items, so take a look and have fun shopping.

New goodies

As I've gotten more comfortable shooting DIY video, I've realized that I need
one good backdrop that I can always use in a pinch. Sometimes I like to arrange a nice scene behind me, but more often I just want a simple plain backdrop. Here are two options; one is low-tech (and inexpensive) and one is high-tech (and still pretty reasonable)!

This kit comes with a muslin backdrop, stand and two lights.

Or, if your space is limited, do what I've done and buy yourself some nice backdrop paper that you can tape or pin to the wall in the place you're shooting your video!

I've also been doing more webinars and teleseminars over the past couple of years, and good audio is a critical component of these recordings. If people can't clearly hear you, if the sound is scratchy or contains interference, they will turn off your recording, period.

It's worth investing in a decent microphone (preferably wired, for best sound); here are my picks.

For off-camera recordings, like webinars and teleseminars, I use a big ol' USB headset like this one. The audio quality is excellent and it's fairly comfortable.

When you're on-camera for, say, a Google Hangout, then you may not want to look like a big dork in a giant headset. In that case, check out a desktop USB microphone like this one. I'm still in the market for a good desktop mic, and this will likely be it.

There are lot of little things you can have on hand in your speaker kit that'll make your life easier: hand sanitizer (for all those hands you're going to shake), extra batteries, a bottle of water, some mints, masking tape, notebook and pen.... Two things I always have on hand are lip balm (this one is made by one of my favorite local companies in Santa Barbara) and a pocket pack of toothpicks (you do not want food in your teeth when you take the stage!).

Oldies but goodies...


I've been using the Flip cam forever, and while it's no longer being manufactured, mine still works great! The video quality is excellent, and the sound is pretty good. It doesn't have a mic jack, unfortunately, so in those times when I need an audio boost, I might use my Samsung phone instead.

The problem with my phone is that there's no way to attach it to a tripod. The solution? This fabulous little GripTight adapter from Joby. I particularly recommend this one because it expands to fit my Samsung Galaxy SIII, even in its case. Most adapters are made to fit the iPhone and are too small for the Samsung. This adapter will fit any phone. It folds flat and even has a hole to add it to your keychain. I love this little guy!

Joby also makes the GorillaPod, a portable, bendable tripod that you can use anywhere and wrap around anything! A great addition to your video bag of tricks, especially if you like shooting on-the-go. (See both together in the photo on the left.)

Unhitch yourself from the laptop with a wireless presentation remote. This one fits perfectly in my hand, and has simple buttons to move slides forward, backward, and black out the screen. (It also has a laser pointer, but please don't use that.) There are a lot of nice remotes on the market; pick the one that fits best in your hand and has the features that you need.

I love my portable 4-port USB hub, and it is a permanent part of my speaking bag of tricks. I never know when I'll need more ports (for example, ports on the host's computer are too close together for more than one of my USB drives to fit).


Make your flip chart notes portable when you carry a lightweight table top easel pad. The sheets stick to the wall like giant Post-It notes and can be placed around the room for further reference throughout your presentation. The easel folds out to stand on a table and folds flat for transport. You can also hang it from a traditional flip chart easel.

Or if you're in the market for a reusable flip chart, try this table top dry erase easel pad.

And for notes on the go, with clients or in small group presentations around a table, try these peel-and-stick dry erase sheets that you can quickly post on the wall, write and erase, or as I've done, just punch holes in them and keep them in a notebook for easy access. (You'll also need dry erase markers to go with these boards and sheets. This pack has nontoxic low-odor ink.)

For regular flip charts, I like these scented markers for their bright, saturated colors, but if you prefer unscented bullet tip markers and have concerns about the markers bleeding through the paper, try these instead.

Fun and Useful Stuff

How about trying out a document stand for your speaker notes? I keep my notes to the side of the stage, on a table or lectern, and in order to see them clearly (I also use a big font!), it's nice to be able to stand them up to make them more visible from afar. This one is foldable. I don't use a clip, however, because I want to be able to flip pages quickly.

I've brought back some of my favorite speaker sayings as magnets in the Zazzle store. If you're looking for a cheeky stocking stuffer for your favorite speaker, this is it!

To keep your audience engaged and stimulated, bring toys, toys, toys, and more toys. These are some of my favorites!

Use this hand pointer to poke some fun at the audience.

Need a way to haul all your tools and materials around? I've got a rolling craft cart similar to this one. Holds everything I need!

Reading Recommendations

Still my favorite book out there: Learn how to make your message memorable with Chip and Dan Heath's Made to Stick.

Dump the boring templates and bullets and create engaging support materials with Beyond Bullet Points, Cliff Atkinson's book that teaches how to outline and design image-based slides with ease.

Titles a bore? Not any more! Get Sam Horn's POP! Create the Perfect Pitch, Title, and Tagline For Anything, and give your presentation and blog titles that extra WOW factor.

Learn how to persuade anyone of anything with this easy read: Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive.

An interesting sneak peek behind the scenes of the motivational speaking industry is Yes You Can! Behind the Hype and Hustle of the Motivation Biz.

If you'd like an alternative to the usual Martin Luther King/Lincoln/Churchill "famous speeches" books, how about one that shines the spotlight on historical speeches by women? Women at the Podium : Memorable Speeches in History

Packed full of useful tips based on real professional speakers' experiences, National Speakers Association "Speaker Magazine" is a must-have to build your skills.

And if you don't like lugging books around with you, maybe it's time to invest in a Kindle. Once you buy your Kindle, then you can download this blog and my 101 Tips to Improve Your Public Speaking to take with you!


Last but not least, if you think the aspiring speaker in your life might benefit from some self-paced training for best practices in audience engagement and general presentation success, then consider giving the gift of my home study program, "Speak to Engage: 7-Step Shortcut to Public Speaking Success."

This is a web-based program with audios, videos, articles, a workbook and other resources for any speaker to complete at their own pace, on their own time schedule, with all the benefits of working with me in a live program!

Get in touch if you'd like to give this as a gift, and we'll work out the details!

Whew! The list changes every year, and I hope you find something here to make your presentations smoother and more effective, or a gift for that special speaker in your life. Happy Holidays!

October 28, 2014

Thinking of doing a Hangout? Read this first!

Wearing a virtual cat face on a Google Hangout
This is not going to be a technology article, so if that's what you were hoping for... sorry!

Nope, just good ol' fashioned presentation advice, but the kind you need when you're going to be on camera.

I recently watched a Google Hangout where the content was all good, but the speakers' on-camera performance left much to be desired.

Just a few simple adjustments would have made this presentation so much better, and I would have been able to focus on the content rather than the distractions of the visuals.

Here are some tips for you whether you're live on a Hangout or shooting a DIY video for later upload.

1. Place your webcam at or above eye level

When you sit at your desk, your screen tends to be a little bit lower than eye level, unless you have a really high desk or a massive monitor. But when you shoot a Hangout or video, you don't want to be looking DOWN at your audience, which is what will happen if you keep your monitor where it is.

If you're using a laptop, elevate it on some books or a box, so that you're looking directly into the camera or even looking up a bit. If you're using a standalone webcam (anyone still use those?) position it the same way.

2. Actually look AT the webcam

I'm shocked when I watch a video or Hangout, and professionals who should know better are looking down at the screen instead of into the camera. Just because you're looking at someone's face on the screen, doesn't mean you're making eye contact with your audience. If you want to make eye contact (and your audience wants you to), you must look INTO the webcam lens.

This takes practice, and it helps some people to tape a picture of someone next to the lens. The more you get used to talking into the camera, the easier it becomes.

3. Put on some powder

Yes, guys, even you. The last thing I want to see on a livestream is some sweaty, shiny guy on the other side. I'm the least likely person to tell you to wear makeup, because I don't enjoy wearing it, and it's actually one thing that keeps me from shooting as much video as I should.

But you don't need full stage makeup, just a little something to even out a blotchy complexion and keep you from blinding the viewer. A little basic street makeup for women, and at least some powder for men is required to keep you from looking either shiny or washed out on the screen. And guys, that powder will need to go on your pate as well, if you're losing your hair. Just sayin'.

4. Pay attention to your backdrop

If you don't have a nice backdrop at your desk, fake one. Ruth Sherman taught me to put a plant or some flowers behind me to liven up (and lighten up) the scenery, even if I have to put them on a step stool.

Your audience can't see what's holding it all up; they just want something pleasant and non-distracting behind you instead of saggy drab curtains, a mishmash of books and knickknacks, or a big piece of drywall (which is what you would see behind me at my desk if I let you!).

You don't have to have a fancy studio setup or expensive lighting when shooting video or live Hangouts. But as a professional who wants to be seen as an authority and an expert, you do have to come across as someone who knows what they're doing and has the confidence of a pro. And the last thing you want to do is distract your audience with these piddly but noticeable mistakes.

Making these little tweaks to your appearance and to your performance will make a subtle but important difference in how your audience perceives you, your credibility level, and overall, your ability to make a connection and build a relationship with your audience.

October 17, 2014

Information doesn't excite your audience

Photo Credit: Dan Harrelson via Compfight cc
A client told me the other day that his wife says he never knows when to shut up. And he recognizes that this is a problem when he speaks.

He told me he's afraid that if he doesn't give enough information, the audience won't be as excited as he is.

Of course, this inspired me to create a teleseminar called "How to know when to shut up," and I'll keep you posted when that's ready!

But for now, let's just address this issue of giving a ton of information so people will get excited.

Do people get excited from information? Not really.

What excites people is your own emotional engagement with the topic.

What excites people is discovering how they'll benefit from what you're saying, offering, doing, sharing.

Information has never excited an audience, I'm sorry to say.

All information does is overwhelm your audience. It makes their brain freeze up and stop accepting new information. It's called cognitive overload. (This article explains it well.)

What's the best way to make sure you're not overwhelming the audience? Leave some stuff out!

I know it's hard to do this, because we think they need to know everything we know. And that's usually a bad idea.

It's much easier to give too little information and then let the audience fill in the gaps with their own questions, than it is to give too much information and leave them overloaded and ready for a nap.

You can always ask, "What more would you like to know about this?" or "What did you feel was missing from what I covered?" Leave room at the end to address some of their answers.

And hey, they can always e-mail you, Facebook you, Tweet you or just call you. You are not going to disappear off the face of the earth once you walk out of the room. If you do your job, and the audience is engaged, intrigued and inspired, they will seek you out for more.

And isn't that better than leaving them drowning in content, filled to the brim with so much data, that their brain is no longer processing and their eyes have glazed over?

I'm guessing you'll say yes.
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